Global HitchHiking V: Sailing Safely: Considerations for Women Crewing

Why am I, a man, writing this article? I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a woman, nor do I claim to be an expert at what it’s like to crew on a sailboat as a woman with people you don’t know and particularly with potentially aggressive men. But I do know some women who have crewed a fair bit and they have shared their experiences with me. The focus of this article is to share tips and tricks on how to safely Globally HitchHike around the world as a woman, although the ideas shared here will also be helpful for men who are crewing.

As I’ve mentioned in past articles, crewing is much like dating, not from a romantic perspective, but from finding the appropriate match perspective. I’m not trying to find a date when I’m looking for a boat, but I’m trying to find a boat that I can enjoy being on for a passage or two, one that is going in the direction I want to go, and one where I can get along with the skipper and crew. Unfortunately, there are many single captains who use crewing sites and crewing opportunities for romantic companionship, even though they disguise their attempts as “looking for crew.” Many I have talked to have had experiences where they went aboard a boat to crew, only to find out that the skipper was really just interested in having a nice woman on board to keep them company or more. I don’t really know what to say about this other than it’s an unfortunate reality that lonely skippers will seek out opportunities to invite women crew on board for this purpose. It’s a large part of why I’m writing this article and why you should be extra wary when crewing as a woman. I realize it is a problem, but unfortunately, it’s not a problem I can solve with this article. I can only control my actions, not others.

Three Weeks Can Seem Like An Eternity

I can say that if you don’t do your homework and make sure you get along with the people you plan to sail with, three weeks can seem like an eternity. I sailed from Tahiti to Tonga in 2017 with a guy who I should have spent more time with, getting to know him. I did not get along with him after a day or two. In fact, we ended up hating each other. He was older and was very set in his ways and was really not prepared to share his space with me. Everything I did was wrong in his eyes. In Bora Bora, I jumped off his boat with fins and snorkel and went from boat to boat in the harbor asking if they were looking for crew. In the end, I sailed with him for three weeks to Tonga, but it was the longest three weeks of my circumnavigation. Imagine being stuck on a boat with someone you can’t stand, but you have to eat together, sleep near each other, share responsibilities for the boat together and there was nowhere you could go to get away from them. That’s why it’s important to spend time making sure you’ll get along with your shipmates before embarking on a passage. Luckily, out of the 7 boats I’ve crewed on, circumnavigating, I’ve only had one bad experience. It saddens me that my travels in that section of the world were tainted by the unease I felt in that situation. Bora Bora was a place I had dreamed about my entire life. It was supposed to be one of the highlights of my trip, but instead, I spent the whole time trying to find an alternative ride and feeling uncomfortable on the boat. I believe it was this experience that made me realize how much worse it could be for women in a similar situation.

Here are some ideas I have come up with as well as some that have been suggested to me on how to avoid running into problems with your crewing opportunities.

Be Prepared

This is the fifth article I have written about Global HitchHiking. If you haven’t read the other articles I’ve written, please read them as there are many practical ideas and suggestions about being prepared to actually crew on a boat. The more you know about what you’re doing, the more respect you will have from your skipper and shipmates when crewing. I’m not saying that knowing more about sailing will guarantee you won’t have problems, I’m just saying that sailors tend to respect you more if you have sailing experience and knowledge. In fact, I recently spoke with a woman who has done lots of crewing and has never had a problem, but she said she had lots of experience and really knew how to sail and her shipmates always respected her for it. So having some sailing knowledge will go a long way. Here are some ways you can get more sailing knowledge.

Safety In Numbers

The personal experience I describe above could have been lessened had there been at least one other crew member involved. I have found that when there is at least one other person on board a boat with you and the captain, it breaks up situations that could arise. Especially in the case when one of your shipmates is being unreasonably vindictive or aggressive. Or even if your personalities are not meshing well. When it’s just you and one other person, there is nowhere to go or nothing you can do to break up that dynamic. Having at least one other person on board might help to do that. It also helps with temporary problems, such as an argument or one person getting angry at the other for something they did. Having a third person on board helps to balance that all out and allows you to get back to a sense of normalcy sooner.

In the case for women on a boat where a captain is being aggressive, particularly sexually aggressive, having at least one other person on board would help in that situation as well. Especially if the other person was a woman. But even if it’s not a woman, there is a sense of accountability in having one other person on board. We tend to try to save face if nothing else when there is an extra witness to our acts of possible aggression. I love the old joke, How do you keep a Mormon from drinking all your beer on a sailing trip? Invite another Mormon! It’s kind of the same idea. People are typically better behaved when there’s someone else along.

Crew on a Rally!

Here’s a google link to tons of rallies happening all over the world. One of the links says there are over 50 rallies going on right now. Rallies tend to be safer than sailing with individual boats for more than one reason. The first of the reasons go to support my paragraph above; There is safety in numbers.Rallies typically consist of many boats and many sailors, men, and women, and there are often crewing opportunities on these rallies. With so many boats (many of which are a VHF radio call away), you can almost always feel safe on whichever boat you are crewing on. Rallies are also run by a group of sailing professionals who are there to provide support and logistics. And they help settle issues when they come up between sailors. These rallies typically cost money, but when crewing, the expense of the rally isn’t typically passed on to you. So you have a safer environment to work in without the overhead.

Brita Siepker is an attorney from New York I met last year, circumnavigating. She did most of her circumnavigation trip on the ARC Rally. Her blog about her experiences is called, Life Is Water. She wrote a blog about this topic and I believe it offers keen information and insight on crewing safely. It can be found here: Crew Finder

The fact that she never had a problem with skippers and crew, was largely due to the fact she was crewing on a rally, and not an individual boat. Normally, a lot of vetting needs to be done when crewing on a boat, but with the rallies, most of that is taken care of by the nature of the group. People on rallies tend to have nicer boats as well and are typically better funded, so the chances of having a more comfortable experience would probably be a bonus to the other benefits it provides.

Crew with Women Skippers

There are at least three or four skippers that come to mind who are women skippers, cruising around the world. Dana Paredes has a beautiful Dolphin catamaran called Vida Libre she has been cruising in the Caribbean for 13 years. She loves taking on crew. Not sure of her financial arrangements, you’d have to seek her out to determine this. Linda Lindenau is a sailing instructor and her rolling class is continuously circumnavigating the globe. She only takes on women sailors who want to learn more about sailing, except for an occasional passage with her husband on board. Great couple and a great way to learn more about sailing in an easy, experience-based way. Here is her website.

I’m sure there are lots more out there who would be open to crew, you’ll just have to seek them out. In fact, there are some Facebook groups out there that only allow women. Women Who SailSailing and Cruising Women, and Women Who Own Boats (Without Men) are three of them. I’m sure there are others. What are your favorite groups or communities? Please share in the comments below.

Final thoughts

I’m sure there are other ways out there to be safe while sailing as a woman or a man. If you have ideas on how to make things safer for everybody, please share these ideas in the comments below. I always enjoy learning from others.

To see the other 4 articles in this series about Global HitchHiking, click on the following links:

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5 thoughts on “Global HitchHiking V: Sailing Safely: Considerations for Women Crewing

  1. Good article Matt. I crewed a lot before I met my husband, even by myself with singlhanders, before we took off and went cruising fulltime, and this is all sound advice!
    Letting them know you are married, even if you aren’t, is another way to test the waters before ever meeting them, or them choosing you to crew can help too. And asking straight out…”are you also looking for a sailing partner romantically?” Sometimes the truth will come out. Though, most singlehanders wish they had a sailing partner romantically…it doesn’t mean they will make unwanted advances. Unfortunately, there are more men skippers than women skippers, and it’s a risk you take, sort of like going sailing is a risk. You must make calculated educated risks, and you have hit all the important calculations Matt Ray!

    Liked by 1 person

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